British Columbia

Home-alone ruling upheld for Terrace mom and 9-year-old son

A B.C. mother will need to continue providing after-school care for her nine-year-old son, despite arguing in court the boy was mature enough to stay home alone.

Earlier ruling said mother could not leave son unsupervised at home after school between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Kevin McCallister (played by Macaulay Culkin) was only eight years old when he took on two burglars trying to break into his family home in the movie Home Alone — too young for the B.C. courts. (20th Century Fox/Home Alone Official Facebook Page)

A B.C. mother will need to continue providing after-school care for her nine-year-old son, despite arguing in court that the youth is mature enough to stay home alone.

"It's disappointing to say the least," said the woman, identified only as B.R., after a protection hearing ruling by Judge Calvin Struyk in B.C. provincial court that was orally presented on Nov. 19.

It upholds a ruling in B.C. Supreme Court that her son, who was eight at the time of the original complaint, cannot stay on his own at home after school from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

B.R. and her lawyer were worried the case would set a precedent for what age children can responsibly stay on their own and push parents into paying for care they can't afford.

"However, the judge was very careful to make the decision solely on the fact of this case, without making a ruling on the ministry policy that no child under 10 be left unsupervised,"  said B.R.'s lawyer Wade MacGregor.

"Consequently the case has very little value as a precedent."

In court, a social worker testified children under 10 lack the cognitive ability to stay safe on their own at such a young age because of the potential for incidents such as accidental poisoning or fires.

No home-alone age

In a statement, the Ministry of Children and Family Development said "concerns have been expressed through the media that a recent court ruling will set an age at which a child cannot legally be left on his or her own.

"This is not the ministry's belief, and it is important to point out that the ruling in question comes from an appeal of an interim decision," said the statement.

"The final determination of whether a child is in need of protection has been decided by a judge in provincial court."

The ministry says it investigates complaints of children being left alone based on the risk of each individual case basis and says "there is no specific age in legislation — federally or provincially — nor is there specific ministerial policy that dictates when a child can be unsupervised."

Neighbour complaint

The case began in January, when B.R. was made aware of a complaint by a neighbour that her eight-year-old son was coming home from school to an empty house.

The ministry did an assessment and determined the child required supervision.

"What this demonstrates is that the courts are generally eager to give the ministry what the ministry wants," said MacGregor. "Simply on the basis that they don't think that it will do any obvious harm to overprotect the child."

B.R. has spent $20,000 in legal fees and says she will not appeal this latest ruling unless someone is willing to provide funds for her to do so.

The supervision order expires in April 2016, and in August of that year B.R.'s son will turn 10.


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